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The Early Educator Entrepreneurial Leadership Corps

We are developing and mobilizing a corps of entrepreneurial educators from within the child care sector to drive transformative change.

Photo of Anne Douglass
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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

In the eight weeks since we submitted the first version of our proposal, we have made substantial revisions and refinements throughout. The biggest focus of our revisions was in our scaling strategy. We focused on this with our mentor, and in follow up research based on suggestions from our mentor. A second area of revision is in the presentation of our model overall to include more detail and concrete plans for how we will grow our impact. We studied the toolkit resources as well, and worked on story telling aspects of our communications material.

Name or Organization

Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation at the University of Massachusetts Boston


Boston and Massachusetts, with a plan to expand to other states

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD


  • University

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Early educators are an untapped lever for improving quality. They can be the engine for innovation, but have been overlooked when it comes to leading change. Our breakthrough solution connects child care and entrepreneurial leadership to unleash incredible talent, transform quality, and catalyze systemic change. We are ready to launch a first-of-its-kind national entrepreneurial leadership corps for early educators, on the scale of City Year and Teach for America. This may be the most morally urgent and cost-effective intervention anywhere, with dividends paying out for generations.

Select an Innovation Target

  • System design: Solutions that target changing larger systems.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

We are developing and mobilizing a corps of entrepreneurial leaders among early educators and child care business owners. They are designing and implementing innovative ideas and solutions to improve the quality of early care and education. We provide educators of young children with intensive training in leadership, cultivating their capacity to be change agents. We are growing a network of these leaders, and building an ecosystem to support their efforts to drive transformative change. Rather than leaving the field, as many early care and education professionals do, our graduates remain invested in improving quality. They take on new leadership roles by starting new early childhood education programs and schools; implementing innovative change at existing ones; advocating for policy and systems change; and advancing scholarship in the field. Why is this needed? Early educators are rarely seen as leaders, innovators, and creators of change. The failure to recognize their expertise and potential contributions to the field of early care and education (ECE) has contributed to a workforce crisis as well as a gap in leadership. Talented practitioners leave the field at alarming rates, while ECE schools, centers, and home-based businesses are closing, leaving families and communities with fewer options. This must change.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Striking disparities in child care quality leave millions of our most vulnerable children behind and fuel the achievement gap, and we must end this inequity. We know from other sectors that diverse, skilled, and creative leadership at all levels is an essential driver of transformative change, yet almost no opportunities exist to develop and support leadership for change from within the diverse child care workforce. This drives experienced and innovative thinkers out of the field.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Each week, over 11 million children ages 0-5 are cared for by early educators. When young children have access to high-quality early care and education (ECE), they are far more likely to complete high school, go to college, and become productive workers and engaged citizens. Yet we have left leadership development within the ECE workforce to chance. With the nearly unlimited potential for societal transformation that access to quality ECE represents, ECE must develop and implement systems that cultivate leaders from within. We have developed and tested a replicable model to close the ECE leadership gap by immersing early educators in intensive training and mentoring in entrepreneurial leadership and small business innovation, and connecting them with our network of established and emerging leaders in ECE. We build an inclusive, collaborative, relational, purpose-driven practice of leadership that defines a leader as someone who can influence and inspire change from every level of the ECE field: assistant teacher, teacher, family child care provider, business owner, and director. Our curriculum includes experiential and academic exercises that help educators see themselves as leaders, identify their purpose and passion for change, and develop a concrete plan to lead a transformative change to improve the quality of ECE. We train diverse cohorts, using our highly specialized curriculum that is customized for different segments of the ECE workforce: business owners, educators working toward college degrees, and educators with college degrees who are looking for more advanced professional learning opportunities. When they graduate, they can access ongoing supports from our follow up programs – our leadership network (the “corps”) and innovation accelerator. Here, they can form teams of leaders within and across organizational boundaries to collectively drive change and improvement. This provides the leadership program graduates with access to mentoring, networking, access to investors and funding opportunities and others business support opportunities to grow and scale their innovative ideas, solutions, and their businesses. We convene an annual Early Education Leadership Forum each May that brings together established and emerging ECE leaders, and features the leadership contributions and innovative ideas of the entrepreneurial leadership training cohort graduates. Consider this story about one of our alums. Two years ago, Christine, opened a STEM preschool on a farm. Children are immersed in nature and inquiry. They spend much of their time outdoors, regardless of weather. Shortly after the school opened, a wait list formed, and demand from families has been so high that Christine is busy making plans to open more preschools. Despite two decades of experience as a preschool educator and a long-held desire to open a STEM preschool, Christine didn’t quite know how to get started in realizing her goal. She needed to design a STEM curriculum based on best practices and the latest research. She needed to create partnerships with community organizations. She needed to learn small business skills such as accounting and marketing. Most important, she needed to believe she could do these things. Christine eventually found a program where she was able to learn those skills, at our entrepreneurial leadership program. Without this opportunity, Christine might never have launched her school. Indeed, the lack of leadership development in the field drives talent away, in many cases long before a teacher accumulates 20 years of experience, as Christine had. Christine’s experience shows what’s possible with training in entrepreneurial leadership. And I can tell you, her accomplishments are not unusual. Our alums are advocating for policy changes on local and state commissions; implementing change at their schools to improve experiences for children and families; and running more profitable and higher quality home-based child care businesses. Prior to immersing themselves in leadership training all of them, like Christine, seriously considered leaving the field. Think of what might be accomplished by scaling these individual stories of success. At 30% of the entire teaching workforce from birth to post-secondary, early educators are the largest group of educators. They are also the most racially and linguistically diverse. The potential leadership impact of this group is immense: Over two million strong, they can be nation-builders, equipping and inspiring the next generation to do great things.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Early educators and child care business owners are the primary beneficiaries of our work. Participating in entrepreneurial leadership development has been transformative for our graduates in how they view themselves and how they interact with the children and families they serve. It has also increased their ability to advocate for and implement quality improvements. We see our idea as targeting both services and systems. We provide a new service - entrepreneurial leadership development. Our idea is to scale this model, so we create a national leadership corps, building a new ecosystem that develops and sustains entrepreneurial leadership in the ECE field. We have been working with early educators in multiple contexts for decades, and our staff have deep roots in the early care and education, as well as the entrepreneurship sectors. We design our solutions and programs in collaboration with early educators, and they have often advocated for the development or enhancements in our model, as illustrated by Amanda, a preschool director featured in the video we uploaded above with the explanation of our idea.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

The success and impact of our solution stems from the premise that immense untapped potential for improvement lies within the child care workforce. By cultivating entrepreneurial leadership, we uncover the key to transformative change to directly benefit millions of young children now and for future generations to come. Leadership and innovation drive success across sectors, from business, military, health, to the public sector. This leadership has the potential to reap similarly dramatic benefits in the child care sector. An external evaluation of our pilot entrepreneurial leadership program found near unanimous agreement among alumni that the program strengthened their leadership skills and confidence, and prepared them to lead change to improve children’s early learning. Within just two years after graduating, alumni had already had an impact on children and families. For example, several advanced into new leadership roles, multiplying the scope of their impact on children as much as 50 times over. Several launched start-up model child care programs, one with a STEM focus and another a Montessori model serving disadvantaged children. These successes benefit children and families, and highlight the multiplier effect of leadership development in this sector, which has yet to be tapped at scale.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Here’s an example of how our idea positively impacts low income children. We work predominantly in low income communities in Boston, with women and minority early educators and child care business owners. After completing our leadership program, the percentage of early education business owners reporting that they had established a budget for their business increased from 28% to 72%, and the percentage reporting they had a business plan increased from 22% to 78%. Remember, people do not go into early care and education because they want to run a business. They go into this field because they are committed to making a difference in the lives of children and families. After working with us, one director-owner of a center serving low income children said that after 30 years in the field she was now able to manage her finances well enough to raise teachers’ salaries and retain talented staff. Others said they were better prepared to manage fiscal responsibilities, and reported increases in enrollment and revenue. They reinvested these saving in quality enhancements, benefiting children. They learned how to strengthen their business model, and identified key levers for change to improve quality for the children they served. This is essential, because the benefits of early education for low income children only accrue when children are served in high quality settings.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Imagine trying to improve quality in healthcare settings without the input of doctors? Or solving cybersecurity problems without IT professionals? Yet this is exactly what happens when it comes to early education. Efforts to improve quality fail to turn to the experts—those who teach our youngest children. Too often, early educators are viewed as the objects of change rather than as change agents. So why aren’t we looking to these experts when it comes to improving quality in early education? Well, the majority of people doing this work are women. Forty percent are women of color. They’re talented and smart, but we’ve failed to recognize their expertise and invest in their development as leaders. Instead, almost all efforts to improve early education quality have focused on top-down, externally-driven solutions. That’s a mistake and it’s costing us dearly in terms of lost opportunities. In response to this, and as a former early educator myself for 20 years, I launched the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation. To close the quality gap, ECE needs to close the leadership gap. We are the only organization we know focused on catalyzing the entrepreneurial leadership of early educators and ECE business owners as a force for change to transform quality, design breakthrough innovations, and close the opportunity gap for children’s school readiness.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

Our scaling strategy is two-fold. First we will expand the reach and impact of our entrepreneurial leadership training model so that more early educators in more states will benefit and become entrepreneurial leaders. We currently train 50 educators/year, and have over 100 alums in our leadership network. We will grow our leadership corps from our current Boston/Massachusetts location into a national corps that becomes a movement for change and innovation driven by early educators. In our first year of scaling, we expect to double our capacity and serve one new region/city, training 100 more early educators by next year. As we scale to serve three additional cities/regions, we will be training 250 new educators each year. By the end of the first five years, we will have trained and established an entrepreneurial leadership corps of over 1000 early educators across the country. To expand geographically, we are identifying local partner organizations who can support recruitment of educators, and collaborate to ensure that our model is adapted appropriately and fully relevant and aligned to the local context. We will then deliver our core model in each location. The second component of our strategy focuses on systems change and influencing the ecosystem for leadership development in the ECE field. This offers the potential for exponential growth in our impact, by embedding key aspects of our model into systems that deliver widespread and transformational impact.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

From the beginning, we’ve designed with feasibility in mind. We built a strong core leadership team, and tested, studied, and refined our model to tackle a critical unsolved problem in ECE. For example, our team possesses the skills, capacities, and experience necessary to successfully deliver and scale our model, with a unique combination of expertise in early education, leadership development, and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Our founder and executive director, Dr. Douglass, brings 20 years’ experience working in urban child care centers, where she encountered a rich but under-valued talent pool of expertise and passion. In 2009 she launched an innovative bachelor’s degree program for urban early educators. In just six years, she grew this program from 10 students to over 300, expanded faculty, developed partnerships with 100 child care programs, secured millions in external funding, and implemented a rigorous academic training program. She is a leading scholar of child care quality and leadership, author of multiple books and scholarly journal articles, and national and international speaker. In 2012, she launched our innovative pilot entrepreneurial leadership program, followed by a pioneering Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation in 2016, a community-embedded and academic powerhouse to catalyze action to scale these entrepreneurial leadership pathways. Dr. Ozkazanc-Pan, director of our accelerator, is an innovation and entrepreneurship expert who advises mayors and community leaders on policies for building inclusive innovation ecosystems. She was awarded a Kauffman Foundation grant to conduct ground-breaking research on women and minority entrepreneurs, which has led to changes in policy and practice around the country. She connects us with Boston’s world-famous educational technology innovation sector, enabling us to leverage these world-class assets. Lastly, a core aspect of feasibility is our potential to catalyze systemic change. Our concrete strategy for this is based on our work now in Massachusetts mapping and expanding the entrepreneurial leadership ecosystem in ECE. We are testing and developing strategies and recommendations to guide policy, funding, and systems change, so that the early education sector includes a thriving leadership and innovation ecosystem.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

We measure and strengthen our business viability across several key dimensions, such as our capacity to recruit talent, demonstrate impact, and attract and sustain funding. One strategy for expanding our team and our viability as we grow is our own talent pool of the graduates of our leadership program. We have already hired some early educator graduates to work as consultants, and many speak and write publicly about the impact of entrepreneurial leadership development in this sector. Impact measurement is equally important to feasibility and business viability, and we track both short and longer term outcomes on a range of relevant metrics. A large part of attracting the financial resources we need depends on our ability to demonstrate our impact effectively. As part of this work, we are refining our impact measurement metrics, aligning our scaling strategy with a realistic budget for growth, exploring earned income and other potential revenue sources, and expanding our influential leadership advisory council. A related aspect of viability is planning now for longer-term sustainability. With solid grounding in our systems change strategy, we are working with public and private partners to test ways to embed our model into existing or new funding mechanisms that can position us for long term sustainability. We also have the benefit of being housed within a major urban research university with a proven track record for generating transformative change, as evidenced for example by our world renowned gerontology institute that shapes rapidly advancing policy and practice nationally and globally, producing over 25% of the world’s gerontology Ph.D.s. These institutional supports and benefits provide a solid foundation for our short and long term business viability. In just five years, we envision a national entrepreneurial leadership corps of early educators over 1000 strong, seeding innovation and transformation across the nation, attracting support and building momentum to sustain this solution far into the future.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

We have incorporated aspects of human centered design in our work to shape the development of our model. We have used a range of methods to engage users, and in fact the development of our model was very much driven by users. In 2012, we launched our pilot leadership certificate program. Its purpose was to give educators the skills to lead change, and to apply their knowledge and expertise to solving the problems they faced in their practice - to be agents of change. The success of this program has exceeded my wildest dreams – it has unleashed this incredible talent from within our field. More than anything else, the graduates of this program have pushed us to learn about what this leadership development ecosystem needs to look like. By the time they completed the program, these educators reported gaining a new sense of themselves as a leader, gaining confidence in their potential to be agents of change, and feeling empowered and clear on their purpose as leaders—what they wanted to improve and how to get started. These graduates have done incredible work already. Their leadership has inspired me and so many others. They are making an impact: starting up a new preschool, implementing a change in practice at their center, testifying at a public hearing, or taking on a new leadership role in the profession. As one alumna said, “It’s like an army of us has been created.” However, we soon learned there was more work to do to support leadership in sustained and systemic ways. These leaders were passionate about their ideas for change. They had a vision for what they wanted to change, which often required doing something new and different to address a persistent problem or challenge. But about a year after starting to implement their change ideas, some of these educators felt frustrated and isolated. They were facing roadblocks. Some told me that their bosses or co-workers weren’t on the same page about the change they were trying to make. One educator told me, “The world wasn’t ready for my ideas.” Some found they lacked the ongoing financial resources or connections to the right people to advance their change plan. We realized something at that point. It takes more than a leadership program to support and sustain leadership for change. We came to realize how few ongoing supports there are out there in our field for the creative, innovative, smart, and passionate leadership of early educators. In addition, many of the field's professional development opportunities are not designed to engage educators as co-creators of change and improvement. Too often, these systems and policies are set up to do just the opposite, seeing incapacity rather than capacity in our workforce. Seeing educators as objects of change rather than as agents of change. So we gathered the ideas of these educators, and we researched how other fields have supported leadership for change and innovation. And then, together with educators, we set out to experiment and to build the idea for an entrepreneurial leadership corps, that can provide this ongoing support, networking, mentoring, and spark a new leadership development ecosystem for our field.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

The graduates of our leadership cohorts inspired us to imagine our boldest vision for unleashing the power of the child care workforce to transform opportunities and outcomes for young children. Our team is convinced that the entrepreneurial leadership of early educators is the key to transformative change. We tested this solution with a $1.5 million grant from Massachusetts’ Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge award. The success of this model inspired us to develop a feasible, verifiable, and sustainable plan to mobilize an entrepreneurial leadership corps to drive high impact improvement in local communities across the nation. The video attached here features our founding executive director, whose recently published book (Leading for Change in Early Care and Education) highlights the context, inspiration, and experience in the early care and education field that is the foundation for our idea.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

As we move to scale our idea, we are beginning to do outreach to strengthen or establish partnerships in other states, with those who share a commitment to cultivating early educator leadership in ways that promote and deeply respect the diversity, expertise, creativity, and entrepreneurial leadership of early educators. We are also forming a leadership advisory council, and are looking for people who share this vision, and have time, talents, and/or financial resources to help deepen and extend the impact of this work.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We have been testing and developing our model here in Boston and Massachusetts, and now we need access to expertise about how to plan and design a scaling strategy.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

As indicated in some of our responses already, we are looking for support around scaling, impact measurement, and networking.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Anne Douglass, Ph.D, is Executive Director and Associate Professor at the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation at UMass Boston. She is the author of a new book entitled Leading for Change in Early Care and Education: Cultivating Leadership from Within.

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

We found the mentoring process to be incredibly helpful. My mentor had just the right expertise to help us consider various approaches and models for scaling our impact. The biggest focus of our application revisions was in this scaling strategy. She also offered feedback about our idea overall and ways we could strengthen it. For example, she suggested adding more information about how we plan to grow our model. She also suggested ways to be more clear about the core focus of our model, which is entrepreneurial leadership development. This feedback also contributed to our plan to engage a consultant to work with us on scaling and impact measurement.

Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

In the eight weeks since we submitted the first version of our proposal, we have made substantial revisions and refinements throughout. The biggest focus of our revisions was in our scaling strategy. We focused on this with our mentor, and in follow up research based on suggestions from our mentor. A second area of revision is in the presentation of our model overall to include more detail and concrete plans for how we will grow our impact. We studied the toolkit resources as well, and worked on story telling aspects of our communications material.


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